[The Makers of Faker] Heroes of Heartbreak: Ambition’s Role in Forming Faker’s Reign

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A hallmark of the League of Legends World Championship is the “Worlds anthem”. These songs, often paired with impressive music videos, highlight the excitement of the competition. Over more than a decade, many fans consider the 2018 song “RISE (ft. The Glitch Mob, Mako, and The Word Alive)” to be the best.


Topping Worlds anthem rankings, with hundreds of millions of views and acclaim from fans and critics, it is one of the most popular singles a game company has produced. And for good reason: the music is emotionally charged and motivating, coupled with some of the company's finest animation.


While the vibes and visuals explain the song's popularity, what I find special about it is that it tells the best story in the tradition (though 2023 comes close). The music video follows Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong, a villainous-looking but wholesome player on his 2017 journey at Worlds. It's satisfying, energizing, and an excellent reflection of the spirit of competition.



The battles shown in Ambition’s journey fit perfectly, and it’s even more appropriate that it culminates in an epic battle with SK Telecom T1’s (now T1) Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok — not only because of their real face-off. The two have one of the most compelling competitive relationships: a rivalry that predates their 2017 duel, and extends spiritually far past it. Their dueling, both rich and storied, showcases the kind of resilience unique to the greatest champions. The theme of RISE could have no greater representatives. 


Welcome to the climb up


To understand Faker and Ambition, we can't ignore a much-rehashed moment in their careers: the Great Debut Solokill of 2013. People have retold this story in countless ways, and, despite its overhyped nature, it’s still pivotal. 


By the opening night of OnGameNet Champions Spring 2013, Ambition had already carved his place in the game. With more than a year of great performance and team success, he was the country's premier mid laner. Almost every major region at the time had an elite talent for the position, and Korea’s was Ambition.



Looks-wise, he had a blend of fierce determination and a near-rogue charm. His hair, thick and tousled yet unmistakably styled, gave him an air of effortless intention. Large, angular glasses perched on his slender nose, framing dark, deep-set eyes. Though often joked that he had the profile befitting an anime or K-drama antagonist, he was one of the first heroes of the Korean League scene.


A championship veteran from the early MOBA, Avalon Online, the trailblazer helped birth one of Korea's pioneering teams. Starting as a jungler, he quickly rose to prominence with a swap to the mid lane. He clinched the inaugural season of Champions Spring 2012, showcased individual brilliance, and helped his team uphold dominant authority on the global stage.


When a renowned mid laner of that era, William “Scarra” Li, was asked about his most impressive competition, he named Ambition, recalling losses in their mirror matchups. Ambition was praised for his formidable laning phase, often amassing a significant CS lead by thoroughly suppressing his opponent.


Source: FOMOS


According to his opposing practice partner and organization teammate Jung "RapidStar" Min-sung stated to Inven Global that, “Ambition was a complete player, full of talent. However, he demanded many resources, requiring the team to adapt around him. When Ambition faltered, it sometimes disrupted the team's tempo. Nevertheless, if he scaled well, he had infinite carry potential.”


Going into the spring of 2013, Ambition’s team CJ Entus Blaze had momentum with a top-four finish in the recent Champions event and a solid international victory. Many considered them one of the favorites for the tournament.



In came “GoJeonPa”, just renamed Faker — the young holder of Korea's top-ranked solo queue spot. The premier esports organization in Korea, SK Telecom T1, swiftly signed him and built a roster blending seasoned veterans with rising talents like himself. Critics foresaw the team's eventual rise, but not their immediate success, especially facing juggernauts like Blaze. “Having to match up against him early in my career was interesting,” Faker noted to Inven Global.



What followed is basic esports lore. Faker, playing Nidalee, faced off against Ambition's Kha'Zix. The game began in equilibrium, with both mid laners advancing at a similar pace. Yet, Faker held firm against Korea's top player. Seizing a lapse from Ambition, Faker took a dramatic First Blood.



He pressed on. Pursuing Ambition’s bottom lane teammates, he executed a bold tower dive and took out the jungler soon after. With four kills in under eight minutes, he steered his team to a decisive 2-0 match sweep.


This match is discussed for good reason: its symbolism is sweet enough to need an insulin shot. The one soon to be hailed as the greatest secured a solo kill against the reigning mid laner of that era. Yet, some context tempers this brilliance. The First Blood, though exciting, was against "First Blood Ambition," infamous for his early deaths. Ambition's true strength was rebounding from setbacks, often outclassing opponents in CS and levels — a skill he showcased in this game by ending nearly 100 CS ahead of Faker (albeit losing the game).



Still, it was a poetic beginning that media outlets have spammed for more than a decade. Faker acknowledged the match's significance. “I solo-killed Ambition in that game, so I think that's where I started to become famous,” Faker stated to Inven in late-2014. “It's the game I remember the most, and it's the game I felt the best after I won.” 


He started to become famous, but didn't stop. In 2013, Faker dominated: he single-handedly compelled teams to surrender, won a domestic championship and MVP award, and secured Korea's first World Championship. He didn't just dethrone Ambition as Korea's top mid laner; he claimed the title of the world's best player.



Ambition's prowess didn't wane after the face-off. Briefly, he blazed new ways forward (hilarious pun, I know). After their defeat by T1, Blaze went on at the time the most extended winning streak in Korean history, with Ambition, crowned as Korea's first All-Star mid laner, one of the lynchpins. But this momentum was short-lived. A shocking 0-3 defeat in the finals shattered their win streak, leaving both Blaze and Ambition empty husks. As the meta shifted from his favored style, the team's losses piled up throughout 2013, ending with their failure to qualify for Worlds.


It looked like the natural order of things. Players from Ambition's time were already falling from their peak, and Faker was simply the one pushing him off of the top. 

Push through hell


Let's try an experiment before we proceed. Search "ryu league of legends" on Google. Skimmed the results? Great! For those who didn't, here's a brief overview: at first, you'll find typical results of a professional League of Legends player, such as wiki pages, social media accounts, and some news articles.


But for Yoo "Ryu" Sang-wook, you'll find more. Beyond the usual info dump, there are headlines such as "Worlds Feature: Faker vs Ryu", "The Most Famous Play In LoL Esports History - Faker vs Ryu", and "‘Every Sixty Seconds, Ryu Dies’ or Does He?" Each highlights a decade-old loss to Faker.



The same goes with public perception. Ask any League fan. Trust me, I’ve done it — asking (unscientifically) 100 random fans at the 2022 and 2023 iterations of Worlds (it was more than that, but many had no knowledge of him or gave me an "Is this person okay?" look) regarding what they remember about Ryu. 92 mentioned him being the other Zed against Faker.


It's an arresting notion. While he's not a legend in the game, his career was better than the majority of players. Despite winning multiple tournaments, being prominent in three major regions, and playing for over six years, it's peculiar how a couple-second sequence can be all of what people remember about a player.



Anyone familiar with League esports knows the reason, though. The duel is the game's most iconic play. With over ten million combined YouTube views and numerous features in content pieces, its impact is undeniable. Faker's masterful action as Zed stands as a crown jewel in his career. It's the harsh reality of competing against the best. A surprise win can elevate someone, but facing a king is perilous. They can do more than defeat you; they can obliterate you, relegating your name to a rung on their ascent.


Such is unfortunately the case of Ryu. 


And I’d argue, such was the case of Ambition. Though he secured more notable victories than Ryu, they were very early in the game’s history. Plus, Faker’s ever-growing profile made the poetic First Blood more and more noteworthy as the years went on. 2014 proved even more challenging. Roster changes sparked initial hope, but repeated losses, often to T1, prevented his team from reclaiming their reputation. By year's end, they struggled to advance beyond the group stage.



The outlook was bleak. While Faker had his issues in 2014, it was more a result of being anchored by a burdensome roster. Ambition was the burden. Many saw him as a weak link for his team, struggling to compete against talents like Bae "dade" Eo-jin, Heo "PawN" Won-seok, and Faker.


His faulty performance in 2014 seemingly paved his way to leave competition in Korea. It’d be understandable; many of his peers had already stepped away. He had options: coaching, streaming, or pursuing the many mountains of cash in China or the West — common next steps for many in his position. 


However, Ambition's situation was weirder than most. If he retired, his career would likely forever be shadowed by his loss to Faker, similar to Ryu. It's debatable to what degree that moment would impact his career, but I'd argue it was significant. Very few outside of dedicated fans would even remember or rediscover his vintage playing career, but many fans every year would undoubtedly revisit his defeat when watching Faker's first kill. Ambition himself acknowledged the gravity of that defining moment. “It is often referred to as the moment of handing over the mid lane position,” he reflected to Inven. 



By 2015, Ambition's career seemed on the brink of ending. With Blaze and Frost merging into CJ Entus due to new rules, a bombshell dropped: Ambition was transitioning to the jungle. To many fans and analysts, this seemed like the final nail. Though some past role swaps had succeeded, a fading star making such a change was ominous. It dogwhistled the fading stardom seen with Bok "Reapered" Han-gyu, Yoon "MakNooN" Ha-woon, and Ryu.


Moreover, the main reason behind his switch was disheartening. In one interview, Ambition recounted how a series of defeats in solo queue games and scrims led him to reconsider his mid lane role. He doubted keeping up with elite players, recognizing the league's emerging talent.


Like him, Faker grappled with similar challenges: adjusting to a new team, adapting to a changing meta, and facing the rise of other players. Both dealt with the circumstances well. While Ambition wasn't mirroring his peak, his journey through the jungle surpassed many expectations. Like before, he favored fast-clearing, late-game champions. His precision with Smite was impressive, reinforced by a calculated yet assertive playstyle. And in teamfights, his champion understanding and strategic acumen were as sharp as ever.



“Ambition expanded our horizons beyond what we thought was possible for a player,” Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo, an ex-jungler and analyst told Inven Global. “He parlayed the down years of his mid lane career into a reinvention as a jungler. He was already one of the oldest players around and the order of things called for retirement. But by switching to a role that at the time was not mechanically intensive, but focused on decision-making and leadership he was able to not only reach new highs in his career, but stand out above the rest of the competition having an intimate understanding of the most influential lane in the game and how to play around it that no other jungler had.”


While he wasn't vying for titles yet, he showed he could still compete at a top level, and even managed to sometimes defeat T1. However, his playstyle was often criticized as overly greedy, and internal issues hindered the team's potential to meet his expectations. As RapidStar recounted, “he could be somewhat intimidating as a teammate. He was the type to address mistakes immediately during games and was straightforward in his in-game feedback without holding back. So when teammates made mistakes, it might have been scary for them.”


Faker made a comeback as well, reaching heights that neither Ambition nor anyone else had achieved. He steered T1 through one of their most dominant years. He was on the brink of winning every event in 2015, frequently overpowered CJ Entus, and secured his second World Championship. While Ambition demonstrated adept jungle pathing, his career path still resembled that of a fading star. Meanwhile, Faker evolved into a supergiant.



Prove yourself


Faker had more in store. T1 maintained their reign, seizing victories in the premier competitions of the year's first half. Ambition surprised everyone again by departing from his longtime base at CJ Entus to sign with Samsung Galaxy (SSG). Given SSG's roster of lesser-known players, many viewed this as yet another blunder.


However, joining Samsung brought more surprises. His gameplay matured, and he broadened his champion pool. Like Crumbz alluded to, his guidance in 2016 sparked the team's dramatic turnaround. They gelled well. In an Inven Global chat, former-SSG support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in reflected the consensus, saying Ambition was not only focused, but also “fundamentally a very serious and stable older brother. I wanted to become a player like him.”



Though SSG's year overall was middling, they stunned everyone in the end with a miracle run in the Korea Regional Finals, securing the last ticket to Worlds. Their journey wasn't smooth — two of the three gauntlet series ended nail-bitingly close. But in a five-game showdown against the formidable KT Rolster, Ambition steered SSG to a triumphant finish.


In the pulse-pounding aftermath of the game, the camera captures Ambition. A genuine smile stretches across his face, clearly relieved after the intense journey to this point. He places both hands atop his head, gently removes his headset, and seemingly surrenders to the feelings of that moment. It’s a touching moment of the raw spirit behind every competitive endeavor.



While Faker's team experienced a dip in performance during the latter half of the year — finishing third in that year's LCK — they were still a cut above SSG. By the time Worlds rolled around, T1 found their groove. They hit peak form, breezing through the tournament and securing a spot in the finals.


In his inaugural Worlds appearance, Ambition ascended to the grandest stage as well. His team, facing a trial of mostly ideal opponents, dominated their way to the finals. After a brisk journey through the group stage and a series of swift victories, Ambition found himself at the pinnacle moment. Across from him sat his longstanding rival, Faker, with the Summoner’s Cup within sight. Ambition’s path had been nothing short of miraculous, a Cinderella story at home extending onto the international stage. Now, the moment seemed right for the seasoned player — this was his opportunity to seize the elusive title.



But then, there’s Faker. 


Although the series ended with a tight 3-2 score, T1's dominance was evident from the start. With a commanding 2-0 lead, they kept SSG on the defensive. They mustered a brief resurgence, evening the score to 2-2, but Faker quickly crushed their hopes. In the final showdown, T1 took the win, hoisted their latest Worlds trophy, and Ambition was left to reflect on what could have been.



It seemed like the perfect climax for him. Every decision, every switch, and every challenge he faced had led him to that moment. Transitioning to the jungle? Success. Moving to an unproven team? Success. Running the gauntlet to qualify for Worlds? Success. Battling his way to the Finals? Success. Standing opposite the legendary Faker, his successor, his rival who had significantly molded his legacy, in the premier match of the year?




It was his year, a remedy for his admitted anxieties about retiring without further triumphs. But it slipped away. Imagine the frustration after coming so far. Few believed he'd get another shot at reaching the finals again, let alone one against Faker. 


Through 2017, it seemed unlikely Ambition would do it again. As the year progressed, SSG favored the younger jungler, Kang "Haru" Min-seung. And after a grueling, heart-wrenching year, his playing time dwindled. As one of the few remnants of a past era, having faced countless trials and losses, few would have faulted him for stepping back. Especially without even a guaranteed roster spot.


But then, there’s Ambition.


Pick up your weapon 


SSG showed promise, yet kept facing heartbreak. They were among the region's strongest, but couldn't earn a major trophy. They advanced deep into tournaments but crumbled in crucial matches, getting swept in each playoff that year.



For T1, it was business as usual, maintaining one of the most legendary runs in history. They reached the finals of every major event, winning most titles. One of SSG’s playoff meltdowns came against T1, with Faker brilliantly leading the series.


However, that was a problem: T1 increasingly relied on Faker to carry them. Though T1 remained a strong team in the region, their lineup lacked cohesion and meta-adaptability. Despite outperforming teams like KT Rolster and Samsung Galaxy in the playoffs, they fell 1-3 in the finals to Longzhu Gaming. Heading into Worlds, Faker faced the prospect of competing with an unstable roster, with another team demonstrating superior form.



For Ambition, even qualifying for Worlds was uncertain, with factors beyond his control shaping the outcome. During the playoff loss to T1, Ambition played in just one game, entering when his team was already trailing 0-2 with Haru. As the Korea Regional Finals 2017 approached, their last chance to qualify for Worlds, the story seemed all too familiar for Ambition. Seeded in the second round of the gauntlet, they once more chose Haru and found themselves in a familiar 0-2 hole. Again, SSG brought Ambition off the bench. 


But unlike the previous time, he stood firm. The seasoned pro injected newfound vigor into the team, bringing a reverse sweep over their rivals. This momentum propelled them to gain victory in the finals, securing their spot at Worlds.


Fans wouldn’t be given a finals rematch easily — both players had a daunting path to get there. But as the two progressed through the tournament, it almost felt like they were hoping for it, too. Faker gave one of the most inspired-carrying performances in history. Although this iteration of T1 couldn't match the might of its previous rosters, the gusts from Faker's Galio — his favorite champion for the event — lifted the team toward victory. Through a solid group stage performance, and two hard-fought best-of-five series in the playoffs, Faker was once again in the finals.



For Ambition, the road was equally filled with obstacles. SSG had to contend with some of the most formidable players in the world — Luka "Perkz" Perković and Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao. Yet, with Ambition now a stable fixture, the team’s cohesion became smoother and smoother. He himself was on fire. He stood tall, refused to waver, and proved indispensable at every stage of the game. They increased in momentum through the bracket, securing a spot in the finals. 



The stage was set for a grand rematch. With the Beijing National Stadium alive with excitement and fans at the edge of their seats, Ambition and Faker prepared for yet another clash.


There’s blood on the crown


What is there to say about the final of Worlds 2017? Noteworthy, but not for the matches. The series lacked quality. SSG's strategic mid-lane picks stifled Faker, making him less impactful than earlier in the tournament. Coupled with their superior team synergy (and how beastly Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk now was), the games were lopsided. In the opening match, T1 couldn't secure a single kill, and the subsequent games didn't fare much better.


With that, SSG took the series, defeating T1 3-0. Often considered one of the least engaging finals, it marked only the second sweep in championship history, the first being by Faker in 2013. Notably, it was T1's inaugural failure to seize a Worlds title post-qualification and Ambition’s maiden triumph over Faker.



However, it became a landmark in the game's history. With the third Nexus falling, Ambition's legacy changed. As the then-oldest player to claim a World Championship, he reflected, “The moment I picked up the trophy, all the hard memories of the past disappeared, leaving only the pride of running for it.”


He continued competing, but retirement came shortly after. As his colleague Ryu retired, one of his main tributes was a T1 promotional video. It highlighted his duel with Faker and showcased a lighthearted 1v1 rematch between them. The Zed confrontation remained (and remains) the defining moment of his career.



At one point in Ambition's journey, a similar fate loomed. He'd be praised as an early Korean League pioneer, yet his competitive accomplishments risked fading into obscurity like other initial greats — instead mostly a footnote in Faker's legacy.


That’s not what happened. He continually defied the odds, persevering and reinventing himself. This resilience led him to the Worlds Finals, eventually a Worlds trophy, and a pivotal moment in League history.



Yes, that night marked a major point for Faker too. For some time, it appeared in a negative light, symbolizing, for many, the death of “Faker”. Not his actual end — he continued to compete after that episode. But the invincible “Faker”, that once-seemingly unbeatable force, the Unkillable Demon King, was gone. That evening exposed vulnerabilities in the game's greatest player. 


Following the 3-0 defeat, fans witnessed one of his most human and vulnerable moments. As SSG celebrated on stage, cameras captured the T1 veteran, hunched in his chair, hands in his face, tears flowing. For a player rarely seen emoting, this raw display was stirring. It remains one of the most iconic images in esports. 



The setback visibly affected his mental state for some time. OnGameNet footage revealed months later Faker consulting a sports psychologist, underscoring the mental strain of his defeat. For T1 fans, 2018 was agonizing as they saw their consistent champion grapple with mediocre outcomes — even missing the summer playoffs.


Prospects improved, but they didn’t return to their previous glory. Over the next few years, his teams won championships and contended in international events, but Faker no longer stood as the titan everyone once hailed. He had drifted from his former status — in a similar position once held by Ambition.




Ambition was there in the first game when the phenom took the world by storm. And Ambition was there again when the tempest eased. There's a poetry to it —almost as if Ambition bookended Faker's rise and fall.




For years, it seemed Faker couldn't meet those stratospheric expectations. Yet, he never surrendered. In many ways, Ambition's win provided Faker the chance to showcase a resilience not unlike his own. When Inven Global spoke with CoreJJ about the night they bested T1, he reflected, "When I saw Faker crying in the booth, I thought it was amazing. He had won so many championships, but he still had the passion for victory and anger for losing. It was really moving to see that."



Much like Ambition during the twilight of his career, speculation has swirled regarding Faker's potential retirement. Yet, as with Ambition, Faker remains unyielding. He has metamorphosed into a wise leader and potentially the greatest macro mind ever, mentoring the next generation, and has once more ignited the brilliance (in a different way) that endeared him to fans globally.


Beyond his so-called peak years, Faker continued to break records, grace the finals of top-tier international tournaments, and display remarkable resilience amid devastating defeats. His narrow miss at the Worlds 2022 finals, losing 2-3 as one of the esports world's elder statesmen, was a powerful moment — bringing despair among some fans who feared it might mark his last chance. 


Just like Ambition. 


But just like Ambition, he wasn’t deterred. When Inven Global interviewed him, he stated while it was challenging, he was able to think more about how to move forward. And he did. The following year, through even more trials, Faker emerged, lifting the Summoner’s Cup once more.


Faker and Ambition’s stories are a strong statement: never count out legends. Although having never played with one another, and having very different careers, their spirits are the same — resolute, defiant, and undying to the very end.


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